Social media has long been thought of a platform for users to show off. It’s a highlight reel; weddings, vacations, victories, and milestones. But with data and privacy breaches in the news, algorithms changing every day, and the whisper of Big Tech breakups, that may not be the way forward for Facebook, Twitter, and other outlets.
For over a year, one of the overriding theories of the future of social media has been to private messaging. We’ve talked about it before, including the anticipated move by Facebook to condensing messaging from its main platform, Instagram, and WhatsApp to a single channel. It hasn’t materialized yet, but there’s every indication that the functionality is on the horizon, floating just over the curve of the earth about how it will impact users.
There are plenty of messaging-specific platforms already and, in spite of a slightly bumpy IPO, Slack still serves as a prime example of how these companies over a social platform that keeps the ‘social’ part limited to those we really choose to connect to. Slack uses channels that further funnel users from company-wide to specific departments or projects. Already a stable in many businesses, Slack has shifted to serve as a messaging platform for clubs, sports teams, and organizations, even just pals who already have been exposed to the ecosystem and like to share photos and chat on the platform. (Note: we would never Slack socially during work hours. Promise.)
Part of the attraction of private messaging within social media apps is that it offers a sort of bond that unites people. Think about it; your pal sends you or a close circle of friends a funny post on Instagram. That’s a vastly different and more personal experience than scrolling along and finding it on your own. When that post involves a brand or product, it’s also a way to enlist users to do the selling for you, and another reason to create great content that really speaks to your unique audience.
The best way to predict where social media is headed is to look at the big numbers and spot the trends, but it’s just as important to study how you use the most popular platforms yourself. I don’t mean when you’re marketing, either; really think about how your habits on platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or others have changed. Personally, I’ve noticed that I hardly ever post anything on Facebook. Most of my activity there is to support clients or non-profits, usually to shake my friends down for donations. On all of the social platforms I use, I rarely post what we’d think of us life milestones. You’re much more likely to see more disposable photos or posts dealing with random bike rides or my dog. (He is the best dog, so, most people are pumped about that). Like a lot of users, more things that were once public knowledge in the early days of social are being kept private, or at least within a smaller circle.
Looking at it critically, I’d estimate that nearly 80% of my social media time is spent in direct or private messaging, often within a very small circle of friends and family that might include up to 30 or so people. That’s right in line with many trends and other user habits, and it’s exactly what these companies are adjusting for.
There are still plenty of ways for businesses to get a lot out of their organic and paid social campaigns, and messaging provides another place to target future customers. How businesses best access those inboxes, however, is going to change in the years ahead. Don’t be surprised if more companies that provide these platforms shift to monthly subscriptions, like Slack. In an effort to reduce their dependence on ads, we could even see Facebook’s compiled messaging service go for subscriptions, though there isn’t a lot of evidence that shows that in the immediate blueprints. One thing you can count on is that if there’s a way to make money, these companies are going to find. It just comes down to who finds it first and does it best.